It happened again. The McDowell Sonoran Conservancy received another award, further establishing itself as a global destination for research and data on the Sonoran Desert. This time it was from the USA National Phenology Network (NPN) which presented their first PhenoChampion Award to the Conservancy’s Parsons Field Institute (PFI). What does that mean for the Conservancy? Get the details and learn more about this prestigious honor.

What Is Phenology?

The desert changes gradually over time. So it takes a keen eye to observe and document those transformations. That’s what phenology does—collect important data on how seasons affect plants and animals. With it, we learn how climate and other environmental factors might play a role in that change.

These findings help conserve the McDowell Sonoran Preserve for generations to enjoy. But it goes beyond that. The information is fed into the NPN’s database used by policymakers to tackle global issues like food production, diseases and their treatment, seasonal allergies, water availability and more.

Earning the Award

Becoming a PhenoChampion isn’t for the faint of heart. Its sponsoring organization, the NPN, is a national-scale monitoring and research initiative. It’s made up of research scientists, programmers, educators and program designers. Their work is considered the gold standard for gathering data used by decision-makers.

The PhenoChampion is awarded to exemplary local phenology projects. The Conservancy’s project focused on observing changes to the desert flora. It reflects on the passion and dedication of the PFI’s citizen scientists and staff.

Hundreds of hours were spent setting up and implementing the project. And hundreds more were spent training people in-house as well as coordinating with and training external partners.

Much of the work was done by citizen scientists who volunteer their time to make observations year-round. In 2019 alone, 25 volunteers invested 270 hours into the project.

But There’s More

Becoming a PhenoChampion is just the start. The Conservancy plans to share even more about knowledge about the Sonoran Desert with everyone from local enthusiasts to world-renown scientists.

The phenology project is being expanded to include wildlife. Desert plant pollinators such as bees and other insects will be observed. In addition, the white-winged dove will be studied. These birds rely on the saguaro fruits and help spread saguaro seeds. This expansion will lead to a richer understanding of the desert ecosystem and how its inhabitants interact with each other.

In addition, the Conservancy is developing resources to educate more people on the project. That will include workshops, training, social media posts and more.

Want To Get Involved?

To support this expansion, the Conservancy is actively recruiting more volunteers at each of their sites. These citizen scientists participate in research, fieldwork, or program support activities focusing on the Preserve’s natural resources.

Volunteers don’t necessarily have to have a science background. They go through an extensive orientation that will train them in gathering phenological data. See the dates for the next orientation.

You can also reach out to PFI Coordinator Mary Fastiggi at to get involved in the project and to learn about additional citizen science opportunities.